I get a lot of emails and questions about reducing sensory behaviors. Decreasing this types of behaviors that are occurring to satisfy some internal sensation can be challenging because we can’t control the reinforcer and the behavior can likely occur anytime or any where. It’s important to think about reducing sensory behaviors in terms of social significance and overall child or individual goals. Behaviors that are self-injurious and potentially dangerous are obviously going to be significant and impactful to decrease. But what about other behaviors? What about self-stimulatory behaviors that aren’t dangerous? I encourage you to think critically about these behaviors. Don’t assume that all sensory behaviors need to be reduced. We all engage in sensory behaviors. Sensory behaviors can be soothing, relieve anxiety, and aide in cooping skills (for all people). Some self-stimultaroy behaviors may get in the way of learning functional, academic, and communicative skills. These behaviors may be at such high rates or high frequencies, that the student now has  more limited opportunities for inclusion. You can work on helping your student decrease these behaviors during instructional time but be sure to allow for an outlet or appropriate time for these responses later. For sensory behaviors that are dangerous or behaviors that prohibit learning, you may want to explore the evidence based intervention response interruption and redirection (RIRD).

This intervention consists of interrupting the response. So if it is a verbal stereotypy behavior, you would verbal interrupt the response. For a motor movement, you would block the response. Next, the teacher redirects the behavior to a more appropriate, alternative response.

When thinking about selecting an appropriate alternative response, you want to make sure it is function based. This response should target the same function (or as close as possible) that the sensory behavior was getting. This response could be handing a tactile sensory toy, teaching the student to say “I don’t know” in response to the question, or chewing gum.

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